Alamon: The true plebiscite

Wrapped in grey

AND so the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite has come to pass. The new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or BARMM established by the said legislation will have an expanded territory that now includes Cotabato City and the scores of barangays which have opted to join the region from the Cotabato and Maguindanao areas.

The February 6, 2018 plebiscite, however, which also covered six municipalities in Lanao del Norte decided to be part of the BARMM just as they did intend to join ARMM decades ago, but are once again frustrated by the vote of the majority of the rest of the province of Lanao del Norte.

The interesting counting rule for the plebiscite then as it is now is that not only do the barangays and municipalities need to garner majority votes among their voting residents, but it is also required that the province where the municipalities that they are part of, would have to concur with a majority vote too.

Lanao del Norte's case is particularly interesting. Six municipalities that are predominantly Muslim in population, namely Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Nunungan, and Tangkal from the province have opted to join the BARMM but the other 21 municipalities, which are mostly Christian, have decided that they cannot break away from the province of Lanao del Norte.

It presents an interesting dilemma for a democratic project such as the one that the BOL and the plebiscite is attempting to solve. If the BOL is indeed an exercise in sovereignty and autonomy of Mindanao's Muslim population, why should they seek the concurrence of a voting population that they are distinguishing themselves from? Something seems to be amiss in this formula which has sadly been inserted once again into the BOL version that President Duterte signed.

Sovereignty or the right to choose should ultimately rest on the will of the people which has been resoundingly expressed, at least for the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte, not just in the recent plebiscite but also in the earlier referendum decades ago. They are predominantly Muslim and they want to be part of the autonomous regions established for their kind. Under what grounds should the neighbouring municipalities and the rest of the province of Lanao del Norte prevent them from practicing this democratic exercise of political discernment?

The historical irony is not lost among Muslim pundits who correctly observe that the recent referendum was a throwback to the forced annexation of Muslim Mindanao when Spain sold the whole archipelago including southern island to the US notwithstanding the fact that they never conquered the Moro regions. They never willed to be part of the Filipino nation in the first place or the province of Lanao del Norte for that matter when it was carved out to appease the dominant warlord with close relations to the dictator decades ago.

The “realpolitik” behind the passage of the BOL is slowly becoming apparent. In the final analysis, for all the much vaunted idealism and promise behind the legislation, and the obvious popular support among the Muslim citizenry, is that it was still subjected to considerations of political horse-trading or the usual quid pro quo deals.

In the Maguindanao and Cotabao areas, agreements have apparently been made before hand to the satisfaction of established Christian political players in the area and some even came out of the woodwork to publicly proclaim their support for the BOL. That obviously did not happen in Lanao del Norte and in the city of Isabela in Basilan. Some things were asked and these were not given. Thus, the provision of provincial concurrence was not removed and retained, just one among many elements of the BOL that runs counter to the spirit of redressing historical wrongs and granting true self-determination.

Thus, the real plebiscite actually did not take place on January and February this year. But some time ago, in the halls of Congress and Malacañang with the usual politicians and their big-boss Duterte parceling the territories of this nation as if these were their private birth right and personal patrimony.


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